What does it mean to love and be loved? It means to be authentic and real, like the Velveteen Rabbit. Some younger readers will not recognize it, but for generations “The Velveteen Rabbit” has been listed among the greatest children’s books of all time. Author Margery William took a simple plot and used it to teach a lesson of great profundity, a lesson the book is still teaching after almost a century in print.
As her story goes, a little boy received a lovely stuffed, velveteen rabbit as a Christmas gift. The rabbit, with Disney-like, Toy Story-esque consciousness, understands that he is only a toy. But he wants to be “Real,” a real rabbit, and seeks the key to such a conversion.
The oldest toy in the nursery, the Skin Horse, by means of his great wisdom, is able to tell the Velveteen Rabbit how toys can magically become “Real” (almost always with a capital “R”). It takes love, and a lot of it. The conversation goes like this:
“‘What is REAL? Does it mean having things that buzz inside you, and a stick-out handle?’ the Velveteen Rabbit asked the Skin Horse one day. The Skin Horse answered, ‘Real isn’t how you are made. It’s a thing that happens to you. When you are loved for a long, long time, not just to play with, but someone REALLY loves you, then you become Real.’
“‘Does it hurt?’ asked the Velveteen Rabbit. ‘Sometimes,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘But when you are Real you don’t mind being hurt. It doesn’t happen all at once. You become – and it takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t often happen to people who break easily, or to those who have sharp edges, or the delicate who have to be carefully kept.
“‘Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out, and you get loose in your joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand. And once you are Real you can’t become unreal again. It lasts forever.’”
“Get real.” This outcry is much invoked but rarely practiced, as we prefer to hide behind our manufactured images rather than become true people. We can only muster bravado when life calls for determination; alibis instead of honesty; and boundless ego instead of bottomless courage. We rely on our carefully crafted facades and end up as lifeless as knickknacks in the bottom of a toy box.
There is only one solution – for each of us as individuals – and for the fakery that rules and ruins our world: Love. And great, hulking, endless doses of it at that. We might end up being less marketable, even less attractive to some after the transformation that love brings, but “these things don’t matter at all.” Better to be converted by love, than to remain an inanimate, useless fraud.